Petition launched to oppose proposed closure of Northumberland convent

There is a proposal to close the Convent of Mercy in Alnwick. Picture by Jane Coltman.
There is a proposal to close the Convent of Mercy in Alnwick. Picture by Jane Coltman.
  • Alnwick’s St Mary’s Convent could close
  • Nuns are praying that it doesn’t shut
  • Opponents vow to fight closure proposals

A convent which has been a part of Alnwick’s history for more than a century is facing closure, due to the dwindling number of sisters and their ‘increasing need for care’.

The Institute of Our Lady of Mercy is proposing to shut St Mary’s Convent and Costello Centre, on Bailiffgate. A consultation process with staff will run until Friday, July 3.

The Convent of Mercy in Alnwick is at 12 Bailiffgate. Picture by Jane Coltman.

The Convent of Mercy in Alnwick is at 12 Bailiffgate. Picture by Jane Coltman.

Opponents have vowed to fight the plans, in a desperate bid to see off the closure threat and maintain a tradition which began in the town in 1890.

There are currently only six religious sisters in Alnwick and five members of staff.

Sister Joan Breen, an Institute trustee, said: “Unfortunately, with the small number of sisters who have an increasing need for care as they grow older, together with a decreasing number of sisters in the Institute, we have had to make the sad proposal to close the convent in Alnwick.

“This proposal has been made after careful consideration and we are commencing a period of consultation with our staff to explore all the options open to us to try to avoid any redundancies.”

The sisters don’t want the convent to shut. They are praying it stays open.

Margaret Givens, St Paul’s RC Church parishioner

No decisions have been made about where the convent’s sisters would be transferred to if the closure goes ahead, but the Institute has said it would be better able to meet the nuns’ needs by moving them to other sites.

But those against the proposal are not going down without a fight and St Paul’s RC Church parishioner Margaret Givens has launched a petition to try to force the decision-makers into a change of heart.

She said: “The sisters don’t want the convent to shut and they are sad about the closure threat. They are praying it stays open and clinging on to divine hope.

“The petition would really back them up and I am appealing for people to sign it.

“It is the only convent in Northumberland and it would be a big loss if it was to close. The convent is absolutely beautiful – it has been a lifetime of work and there have been some brilliant nuns there over the years who have done some brilliant things for the town.”

The Sisters of Mercy arrived in the town in 1890 at the request of the parish priest to provide education and visit the sick. Fr Robert rented 12 Bailiffgate and later Mother Evangelist bought the property.

Locals quickly recognised the value of the education provided by the sisters and were happy to send their children to the schools.

At the end of 1897, a new extension was built, including the refectory and chapel. The first postulant, Sister Agnes, joined the community. The second half of the convent was built and ready for use by the private school in 1917. The new Convent School, on the current St Paul’s site, was opened in 1962 and had excellent results.

Margaret added: “There have been so many people who have been taught by the nuns over the years, including myself. On top of that, if ever you are stuck or need advice, you can go to them.”

Sister Breen said: “After such a long association with Alnwick, I would like to thank the local community for their support and encouragement over the many years the Sisters of Mercy have lived and worked in the town, not least in our ministry of education.”

To sign the petition, click here